One Less Voice for Discrimination

By Stetson Kennedy

Vol. 11, No. 4, 1989, p. 16

Any time a racist organization or hate sheet goes out of business is a time for rejoicing. The recent obituary in The Spotlight announcing the demise of The Citizen, standardbearer of the White Citizens Councils which flourished at mid-century, makes very good reading indeed.

The appearance of these Councils on the local and state levels in many parts of the country was part and parcel of the last-ditch effort to perpetuate apartheid in America.

The agreed-upon division of labor was for the Councils to wage terror by day, and the Klan by night. To rope and faggot were added firing, foreclosure, eviction and denial of credit.

There was nothing new about this conjoining of economic lynching with the more conspicuous forms. The same "double whammy" was employed during the holocaust which overthrew Reconstruction, restored white rule and institutionalized apartheid. Again, at the turn of the century when blacks thought they saw hope in Populism, demagogues like Tom Watson prescribed the same medicine.

The White Citizens Councils of more recent memory were wont to refer to themselves as "respectable elements" but they were terrorists nonetheless. Denial of livelihood has always been tantamount to denial of life itself.

We would do well to ask ourselves why it is that The Citizen, after thirty-four years, decided to give up the ghost.

Hopefully, the cause for which it labored, an apartheid America, is a lost one, no less than that of the Confederacy. Except for the black ghetto, Jim Crow has been dumped upon the ash heap of history. And yet, I submit, where once we had segregated racism, we now have desegregated racism. If in this modified environment the Klan can find plenty to do, why is there not enough to fill the sheets of The Citizen?

Part of the answer, in my opinion, is that its editors have concluded that with plainclothes counterparts in the executive branch, and black-robed counterparts on the federal bench, they can afford to relax and go back to "discrimination as usual," i.e., on a more covert, individual basis.

What has happened is that recent administrations have been doing the job of the Citizens Councils for them. Capitalizing on the so-called "white backlash" against busing, "reverse discrimination" which they helped conjure up, these administrations picked up the ball in the ongoing game of keeping blacks, women, and others in a disadvantaged status. The lynching, in one form or another, still goes on by day and by night . . .

To put it into another metaphor, in the great American crap game blacks, women and other minorities have always been up against loaded dice. School busing and affirmative action have been the only means in sight for evening the odds. In one of the great turnarounds in human history, a nation which had virtually prescribed discrimination proscribed it.

But the odds are a very long way from being even yet, and if we let anyone take us bade to the loaded dice, we will all be in for a hard twenty-first century.

Some cynic among the philosophes once said, "The forms of exploitation change from time to time."

Woody Guthrie was also well aware of the versatility of exploiters when he sang:

As through this world I've rambled,
I've met lots of funny men;
some will rob you with a sixgun,
some with a fountain pen.

But Woody was an activist, not a philosopher, and he wasn't buying any.

With this issue, Stetson Kennedy joins Southern Changes as a contributing editor. His four books, which at mid-century raised the standard of total equality and called for an end to Jim Crow--Palmetto Country (1942); Southern Exposure (1946); The Klan Unmasked (1954);and Jim Crow Guide (1955)--are all being brought back into print by the University Presses of Florida (15 N.W. Fifteenth St., Gainesville, FL 32603). Palmetto Country has already appeared, and the others, as well as a new work on Reconstruction, After Appomattox, are scheduled for 1990.